What is Malted Barley?

While doing research on the web for topics I’d like to write about here on Cryptobrewolgy.com, I’ve discovered an amazing amount of misinformation with regard to beer and brewing. I mean stuff that is WAY off the mark! The abundance of bad information online is the unfortunate side effect of so many people being able to publish a website. The good sources are scattered among the results one gets while doing a search, you need to weed through carefully.

Here’s an example, “The yeast in ale ferments at warmer temperatures and the process results in a faster fermentation that creates a somewhat fruity-tasting, crisp brew, that lacks carbonation.”

Somewhat correct, but not all ales are fruity, and they certainly do not lack carbonation. I wonder if that writer ever drank an ale?

Or this one… “[Mashing] is a process of grinding the malted barley into granular sized pieces.” That’s not right. The grain husks just need to be cracked. You don’t want them ground up. Not only that, the mashing process is NOT cracking the grain, it’s soaking the cracked grain in water heated to a specific temperature to promote the conversion of starches to sugars by enzymes present in the grain. More on that in a future post I’ve been preparing called “What is Grain Mashing?”

Granted those two examples aren’t disastrous, but there are more instances of misinformation online that do nothing but serve to perpetuate ignorance of beer and the art of brewing. I think that’s unfortunate. It even happens on this blog from time to time, but I review all of my work as I continue in my journey through the art of brewing, and as a result Cryptobrewology self-corrects.

We don’t need to be scientists to brew beer, but it’s nice to know what’s going on during the various processes, even at the most basic level. Brewer’s are a curious bunch, and at some point most of us get the desire to learn more about how all this stuff works together.

It is my goal to publish accurate information at Cryptobrewology, so at the very least, anyone looking to head in the right direction on the road to understanding beer, can start here. Any links included in my blog link to trustworthy, and accurate sources. To your advantage, I’m a stickler for the truth.

Now, on with the post: What is Malted Barley?

The brewing process is built on some very basic ideas, but trying to understand the details behind these ideas, and learning more about the process can make things a little complicated.

When I’m talking to my non-brewer friends about homebrewing I’m almost always stopped mid-sentence and asked, “what is malted barley?” Or “what is mashing?” In a nut shell, barley grain (and other grains) are malted, and malted grains are mashed. The how, what and why takes us a little deeper.

Malted grains are used to create a variety of beverages, from beer, to whisky, to malted milk and soft drinks like Malta which is actually brewed with barley malt and hops, but never fermented. It’s a sweet, mildly carbonated beverage.

Malted barley is barley grain that has been allowed to germinate, under controlled conditions, and then halted in that process by being kilned, heated, to dry. The germination stage allows for the development of enzymes that will come in to play when the grain is mashed later on. During the mash process, these enzymes will convert the grain starches into fermentable sugars.

Being a seed, the grain, if left to germinate, would have sprouted into a plant and began growing, utilizing the sugars and starches in it’s development.

A variety of grains can be malted, but most notably for beer would be barley, wheat, oat, and rye, though barley malt would be the base grain in most cases. No pun intended. The others would most often be used to affect the flavor, color and body of the particular beer style being brewed.

Fortunately homebrewers don’t have to worry about malting their own barley grain, because malted barley is available at most home brewing supply stores, at very reasonable prices. In fact, you can brew a little cheaper using all the grain method instead of extracts. I’ve addressed that topic in the post: “Can You Save Money Brewing Your Own Beer?”

However, if you’d like to take your hobby to the next level, and actually add “maltster” to your list of titles as a homebrewer, I refer you to the article “Make Your Own Malt” at Brew Your Own Magazine’s website.

And for further information on what happens during the malting process, on a microbiological level, I refer you to the online book “How to Brew” by John Palmer, chapter 12: What is Malted Grain?

Once we have malted barley, how to we make that into beer? We MASH IT! Coming up Next… What is Mashing?

Stay tuned.


Note: I’m not an expert, but I’ve tried to present the basic facts here about malted barley and the mash process as accurately as possible. If anyone out there is an expert and you’ve noticed any errors or oversights in this post please let me know. Thanks!